By Allison Schmidt, Market Sales and Catering Manager, McKibbon Hospitality
Enhancing hotel meetings and events by bringing in local flavors
The passion I have as sales and catering manager for two downtown Asheville, N.C., hotels is fueled by the love I have for my city. I want everyone who visits Asheville to experience everything that makes it vibrant, diverse, talent-filled, welcoming and hospitable. Over time, hospitality has come to define Asheville, as we make our mark as one of the most desirable and unique places to visit in the nation.
Asheville’s hospitality has continued to evolve, becoming much more than relationship-building with guests, clients and patrons. The hospitality community now focuses on building relationships with neighbors, vendors and the local community. These relationships are an integral part of being successful in any given market. In Asheville, the art, music, food and craft beer scenes are thriving and continue to receive national attention. However, many times, our groups are too busy to venture out and truly experience the city, so it has become our mission to bring local experiences to meetings and events taking place within the hotels.
One of the keys to incorporating local elements into meetings and events is identifying the right partnerships. From there, it’s important to think creatively to redefine local experiences inside the walls of your hotel. At the AC Hotel Asheville Downtown and Aloft Asheville Downtown, we’ve brought local beer tastings to corporate meetings. By partnering with top local breweries to bring in a variety of their craft beers for an afternoon break, meeting attendees can interact with brewers on an intimate level and start to understand their craft without leaving the hotel.
This kind of tasting also works well with ice cream shops; food vendors who sell locally made popcorn, potato chips and other snacks; and local farms, creameries and apiaries. Seasonality and weather should also be considered when planning these experiences. One of our local ice cream shops has a rolling retro ice cream cart we showcase on our rooftop space on hot days. Setting up charming picnic areas with lawn blankets, umbrellas and sun shades adds to the ambiance. Incorporating the vendor’s general look helps guests feel even further immersed into the vendor’s brand.
Customizing Craft Cocktails
We also showcase our local distilleries, “shiners” and gin producers, which adds a special touch when experimenting with specialty cocktails. Some groups like to create a craft cocktail incorporating their own company culture. For one group, we partnered with a local distillery to create a “Running with the Bull” cocktail, inspired by their company’s matador mascot. Members of the group were able to order the cocktail on-site throughout their stay, and it kept the company’s theme at the forefront during the meeting while simultaneously showcasing an Asheville supplier. Another bonus of working with local vendors is the swag; many of them bring koozies, stickers, key chains and samples for guests to keep as takeaways.
For planners who are able to get their groups out on the town, suggest top local tours and unique experiences. Asheville has a variety of food, brewery, history, comedy and music tours to experience, and our guests love getting out and feeling like a local. Partnering with your local CVB can enhance a group’s outing, as these experts can help curate the perfect experience.
Whether you’re bringing the local flavor to your guests while they work or getting them out on the town, unique experiences will entice guests to return to the destination for future trips. In the end, this model helps our neighboring businesses and the overall community. We’re humbled to have played a small part in our city’s success, and we’ll continue to scout out the next big thing for our guests to experience.